The Nuclear Energy Institute and Environment America may not have much to agree upon. Still, both organizations have something in common: Each hoped to influence economic stimulus legislation last month by using online display ads targeting Members of Congress and influencers in Washington, D.C.
Organizations came out of the woodwork in February to demonstrate the value of investment in the industries they represent and promote their causes while lawmakers were crafting the stimulus legislation. A handful of groups bought Web ads to accompany lobbying and other efforts, though some have more to learn about how best to employ digital media to communicate their messages.
"We were leveraging an issue that was on the front burner in Congress and in legislation," said Mike McGerry, EVP public affairs for AdvaMed, a medical technology industry advocacy organization. An extension of a broader campaign that originated in traditional media in June 2006, the association began running online display ads last month in two healthcare-related beltway publications, CQ HealthBeat and National Journal Online's Healthcare Experts Blog.
"Stimulate the economy with quality healthcare, medical technology makes progress you can see," read the ads, created by D.C.-based strategic consulting firm Neimand Collaborative. As the economic meltdown became apparent last year, the association recognized an opportunity, and decided to tailor an ad campaign to relate specifically to the economy and government recovery plans. McGerry said AdvaMed realized, "There might be an opportunity to tell our value story again, but in the context of the economy." The group began buying Web ads to enhance its longer-term campaign in 2008 to demonstrate the value of the medical technology industry to policymakers, according to McGerry.
The trade association believes its Web ads complement the in-person communications it has with Congressional members. "It should help in our advocacy," said McGerry. Explaining the importance of exposing legislators to information about the medical tech industry, he continued, "Our target audience is the [Obama] Administration, it's Congress, it's regulatory agencies.... To the extent that they see and understand the value we provide, we believe that will help us when we go and advocate on an issue."
"Nuclear energy fuels economic growth & job creation," declared ads spotted by the Media Trust Company on National Journal Online and Politico in early February. The ads linked to the Nuclear Energy Institute's homepage, which promotes a white paper on how "The nuclear energy industry can play an important role in any program to stimulate creation of new jobs and economic expansion."
"We're definitely doing a lot more advertising online this year," said NEI Web Manager Ken Berard, who said the ads were not tied only to the stimulus bill, but aimed at raising awareness of how building nuclear plants will create jobs. The organization is also starting a search ad campaign soon.
Environment America, a collective of environmental advocacy groups, has opposed moves toward further investment in nuclear energy. Yet, like the NEI, the group of citizen-funded organizations used display ads in the hopes of influencing the stimulus legislation. With the Senate vote just a few days away, Environment America recognized the need to influence those determining what would stay and what would be removed from the bill passed earlier by the House of Representatives.
So, in response to House Minority leader John Boehner's list of suggested cuts to the House version of the bill -- which included funding for upgrading federal government facilities to be more environmentally friendly -- the organization decided at the last minute to place display ads on WashingtonPost.com.
"Don't let John Boehner cut 180,000 green jobs from the president's plan. Take Action," said the ads. "Environment America was working to make sure President Obama makes clean energy a cornerstone of economic recovery," said the group's spokesperson Jennifer Mueller. The group aimed to reach Congressional Members, their staffers, and others who might influence the vote. The ads, no longer running, led users to a form allowing them to send a message to Congress.
The National Association of Realtors, Association of American Railroads, and the Portland Cement Association, which represents U.S. and Canadian cement companies, also ran display ads on National Journal Online with economy-related messages starting in early February. All of those ads linked to the groups' homepages.
"We should have linked [the AdvaMed ads] to a particular page, but we didn't have time to develop the content for that," said McGerry.
"The organizations running these ads are really missing half the equation if they're just linking back to their homepages," Colin Delany, a digital consultant and founder of Epolitics.com, told ClickZ News. "It seems a real waste to invest as much in the creative and the placement as some of these people clearly did and not take the relatively simple and straightforward steps needed to get the most out of every click on one of their ads."
"Our approach to digital media is fairly unsophisticated," continued McGerry. "We tend to run online ads in the online versions of publications here in Washington...and that's about the extent of it."
But the association already puts far more of its advertising budget toward online ads than most advertisers in the commercial sphere. According to McGerry, in 2008, the group spent about 25 percent of its ad budget on online display advertising. And it seems dedicated to improving its understanding and usage of digital media. Indeed, McGeery said AdvaMed will increase its online ad budget to 40 percent of its overall advertising spend this year.
Ad images provided by The Media Trust Company.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
March 19, 2014